Roller furling - the work of the Devil?

Where do you stand on roller furling

  • I have it and love it

    Votes: 96 67.6%
  • I have it but am secretly afraid it will fail

    Votes: 28 19.7%
  • I don't have it and yearn for it

    Votes: 8 5.6%
  • I don't have it and don't want it

    Votes: 10 7.0%

  • Total voters
    142

Evadne

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I haven't been able to read or contribute to many threads recently, but it's a quiet afternoon. I have just read through the "Seaside Rescue" which includes Elton's harrowingly prosaic account of just how badly things can go wrong. Thanks to him for sharing that with us. Both Elton's and the OP's subject seem to be accidents caused or contributed to by roller furling failure.

I've never had roller furling/reefing, having had the good fortune to buy a boat fitted with twin forestays. It's not perfect but the default is that you can always drop the foresail. I've always felt that roller furling is too complex for my sort of sailing (I've only reluctantly converted to GPS in the last decade) and on the average MAB is an accident waiting to happen, given the predations of time and any lapse in maintenance. Naturally, in the nature of things these accidents are so few and far between that most of us will die of old age before they happen, but happen they will, to someone. I'd rather it wasn't me.

What I was wondering is, am I right or am I alone in thinking this? Do you rollerphiles secretly envy us rollerphobes (or hankophiles?) for being able to sleep at night, or am I in a minority of one?
 

fireball

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I love roller furling - I have had it jam up, but not critically - it took less than a minute to resolve...

and I know how to manually wind it up to finish wrapping the sail or unwind and drop ...

I can see that it could become an issue when approaching a lee shore and you cannot get rid of the sail - but that's unlikely to happen and the convenience of being able to pull sail out and put it away again for the rest of the time far outweighs that possibility.

for example - last weekend we motored down to east head, dropped hook for lunch then sailed back under genoa - total distance ~3nm - wouldn't have bothered with the genoa had we had to unpack, attach, raise then reverse ... I know this because we used to sail a MacWester Rowan without furling ...
 

ChrisE

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Of course roller furling can break but then so can everything else on a yacht. What happens if your forestay snaps mid-Atlantic? What happens if the spinnaker gets stuck up because the halyard has jammed?

Both of these things have happened to me and I'm still here to tell the tale. You get on with it. If you are unlucky, as Elton seems to have been then you take a beating but for the most part you work out a solution and get home safely.

I don't see that putting roller furling on a yacht increases the danger per se.
 

jordanbasset

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I like roller furling, I did have one jam on me once, which did entail my dismantling part of the drum to unjam it. Took a few minutes but no great problem. Would not be without it, having done my day skipper on a boat we had to manually replace the Genny when the strength of the wind changed (had a choice of three) would not want to go back to that. Sorting out the jam was no more difficult than swopping sails, except only had one jam in 18 months, instead of swopping sails a dozen times in 5 days. Were on a course so I suppose the instructor wanted to 'perfect us'.
 

prv

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It's jammed on me on several manky old cheap charter boats, but so what? It's not exactly a complicated mechanism to unjam, and provided you have a standing rule of no winching on the furling line you're unlikely to get it stuck so solidly that it can't be freed. (Might have to modify that rule slightly on really big boats, but we first applied it on a 42-footer so the threshold is quite high.)

On my own boat the furler foil is somewhat eccentrically held up by a halyard, with a separate forestay, instead of combining the two. So in extremis I could drop the lot to the deck, although I don't expect ever to need to.

Pete
 

AntarcticPilot

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Ok, roller furling can go wrong and jam - I've had it happen in exciting circumstances. But against that, I can easily and usually reliably reduce sail single-handed, quickly and without drama. Jamming normally results from my own lack of care when setting sail; it is easily avoided on my setup by keeping slight tension on the furling line when setting sail.

For me, the pluses outweigh the minuses.

It isn't as if it is a new idea - my Dad's first boat, a 27' cutter-rigged converted lifeboat called "Pulang" had it on both fore-sails. And Dad bought her about 50 years ago from the guy who did the conversion - so I reckon the gear was made about 60 years ago. As far as I recall, it worked fine!
 

Kelpie

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On the whole I do like roller furling, but it has its downsides. We have a small, high-cut jib that is itnended to be run up the foil in the event of bad weather, but in practise we never use it because I don't want to wrestle a 130% genoa to the deck once the bad weather has arrived... and I don't generally have the foresight to swap them in advance of bad weather, it must be the optimist in me...

I had my first minor jamming experience with my furling headsail at the weekend. Had recently fixed up a spinny halyard which was tied off to the pulpit. Whilst entering Loch Nevis and getting a very nasty squall coming off the hills, I found that the spinny halyard could get scooped up in the genoa as it was being furled away. Not quite the ideal time to find this out! I removed the spinny halyard the next day to avoid a repeat.
 

Ubergeekian

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I have two lots of it, both fitted by previous owners.

The Hunter 490 has a lightweight system, by Plastimo I think, which is a pain in the bottom. It's constantly sending the furling line off the drum, requiring perilous trips to a tiny foredeck to sort out. For this year I plan to extend the arm through which the furling line runs, or hold it in place, or both.

Jumblie has a beautifully made Sailspar system. It's continuous line, so avoids all the problems of riding turns and so on, but I still don't trust it. Unless the furling line is very tight the it can slip in F6+ - which was a bit of a surprise the first time it happened. Sorted by recleating, but still nervewracking. I plan to keep it until The Boy is a bit bigger, then swap it for hanks.

The Hunter will get a Wickham-Martin gear when I can afford it.
 
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oldharry

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For a veteran single hander like me it's essential. The occasional lapse due to a riding turn, or halyard wrap is (usually - but not always!) no more difficult than trying to corner a hanked sail on the foredeck of a bouncing boat in rising winds on my own, and being able to sail in and furl the sail in seconds means less engine use too. Also knowing I can set the sail in seconds is a further back up should the engine ever pack up at a critical moment. The one time I had that happen with a hanked jib convinced me that I needed roller reefing. had I unhanked the jib before motoring in I would undoubtedly have lost the boat on lee shore rocks long before I could have got things back under control.

Would not be without it.
 

Conachair

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Single handed and love it. Never jammed, never had a problem. Though if it wasn't a cutter rig I might feel differently, having the foresail easily rolled up out of the way in a moment when it gets a bit breezy feels good :)
Also knowing I can get big chunk of sail up in seconds when the engine fails is a good feeling as well.
So I sleep well at night, for weeks at a time solo in the trades knowing I won't have to go further than the mast unless i want to :) :)
 

ProDave

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How about another option:

I've just fitted it, but until I launch the boat in a few weeks, I don't know how well it works.

Regarding an "accident waiting to happen" why? Is that following the comments in the seaside rescue thread?

If so, here's my take on the whole idea. Mine is just a simple roller furling system from Barton. there is no rigid foil between the drum and the top swivel.

So this seems to me the best of both worlds. When all is working, you have a roller furling genoa so you don't need to go to the foredeck to hank the sail on and raise it.

But, if something goes wrong, and you can't furl it for some reason, a trip to the mast to drop the genoa halyard will have the sail down. No rigid "foil" to prevent any possibility of lowering the sail, so no harder to drop than a conventional hanked on genoa.

At least that's my theory, tell me if I have missed something.
 
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ChrisE

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Even with a foil it is not difficult to bring the headsail down. I do it on my own (on a 38' craft) every year when the sail gets stored for winter and takes me less time than it has taken to write this. It is a bit trickier if the wind is above 10 knots but still not a real chore.
 

ditchcrawler

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Re the Plastimo gear PBO showed a mod a few years ago. This involved drilling a hole each side of the drum opening where the line goes in/out and putting a chain of 3 shackles with the pin through the drilled hole each side for the two outside shackles and a centre shackle through which the furling line ran.Some of the smaller Plastimerde furlers do not have an arm at all.Hope you understand what I am trying to describe
 

Evadne

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Thanks for the answers, folks, I know I am in a minority, but I like what I have and haven't really heard anything that will change the way I do things, but it is instructive to hear so many positive experiences.

Most people (including me) do not deliberately set sail in challenging conditions, so never get to try out the things they rely on in less than ideal circumstances. Just because everyone has something doesn't mean, on its own, that it is a good thing. The power of S'butt is that I can hear what those few who have gone through failure in challenging conditions actually think about it.

I supppose my answer, especially to the "everything on a boat can potentially fail" argument is that the more complex a system is, the more likely it is to fail, so keep it simple. Hanks are simpler than furling. I have used roller furling on a charter boat, and if they're all like that then I wouldn't have one on my boat for all the tea in China.
 

Seajet

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On my 7/8ths rig Anderson 22, I would not think of a roller headsail for a second.

I can take separate sails up, hank them on, and here’s the important bit, I know they’ll set well !

The ‘pro’ arguments about ‘you can whip the sail in or out in a trice as a seamanship / racing tactic are generally beaten by a bit of experience, and will never outweigh the disastrous set of rolled sails let alone the potential jamming problems, and it has only been slightly mentioned that a part rolled sail cannot usually be lowered, let alone the windage of a rolled sail in a strong blow, etc.

A chum with a similar boat who is not a very experienced sailor but is a very good engineer came to the same conclusion, his roller kit went into the skip and he’s delighted with hanked headsails, despite having to go forward with a recent replacement hip !

HOWEVER when I had a masthead IOR rigged Carter 30 with headsails which my girlfriend could not even carry to the foredeck if I was busy ( where’s Sir Francis Chichester when you need him ?! ) I would have given anything for a roller system, if it was trustworthy and I could have afforded it then.

I have experienced several jams with rubbish kit, I’m a reasonably qualified engineer and they were NOT easy to sort out !

I would never go near in-mast or in-boom reefing for reasons which I hope are obvious to most sailors / engineers / students of Sod’s Law /, but I would use a good headsail roller system on any modern boat much over 28’, ( Apologies to Sir Francis C’ ) as long as I had a good backup storm jib & a low windage reduced / removed headsail set-up already devised…

Editted to add, my reply seems overtaken, so here's my tuppence in case it's of use.
 
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Searush

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Both my boats came without RR & I had to struggle with 2 sails on the foredeck in atrocious conditions, one minute in green water, the next 6' up in the air. Even tied on I came clean off the foredeck at the top of each rise.

I could only afford Plastimo systems, but I wouldn't be without them! The ability to use the rolled genny to control my speed entering a harbour & picking up a mooring after engine failure convinced me that no other solution comes even near.

Sure I've had the odd jam, but nothng that can't be sorted & prevented next time.
 

BrianH

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Many years ago I found myself on the foredeck of my old Trapper trying to douse the genoa in a rising gale and rough sea.

As I struggled to haul the 150% foretriangle sail down and lash it to the guardrail I was alternately airborne and then dashed to the streaming deck and washed over by the next wave as the boat buried her bow.

Just as I thought I had it secured another wave, larger than the others broke over me and took the sail overboard. I still had the sheets attached and had to haul it, inch by inch, back aboard again. I shall never forget that ordeal and I ordered a furling system as soon as we returned from our two-month cruise.

My wife, who was on the helm on that occasion, has rarely sailed with me since despite witnessing the ease and swiftness of furling the new headsail.

Go back to hanked-on sails? Never!
 

Pagetslady

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It hardy required a pole, look in any marina and count the boats without furling head sail far quicker than those with.
I have fully baton'd in mast furling main as well, also just bought a furling cruising chute wonderful stuff especially if you use it enough to learn the best way of using it had some fun with the chute a couple of times but have with help from this forum got it working fine, jibing down wind (i sail mostly single handed on my Westerly Corsair) I furl the chute jibe the main and unfurl the chute it works a treat wonderful for light winds.
Mike
 
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